Learn what it takes to be there as a crisis volunteer in your community.


To inquire about volunteering with a crisis care program in your community, click here to contact us. The “Frequently Asked Questions” below give a general overview of serving as a crisis volunteer.


What is community crisis care?

Community crisis care programs consist of trained on-call volunteers from all walks of life providing immediate on-scene practical and emotional support to survivors impacted by personal tragedies. These tragedies most often involve the sudden death of a loved one from heart attack, suicide, homicide, accident or other unexpected cause.


What do volunteers actually do?

Just as the paramedic's role is distinct from nurses' and doctors' roles, the crisis volunteer's role is quite distinct from those of clinical counselors and clergy. As volunteers who receive extensive on-going training in crisis care, they are typically only involved with survivors in the first hours immediately following an incident. Once on scene, volunteers help to:

  • calm survivors and serve as liaison with public safety officials,
  • provide a compassionate presence to help survivors express their feelings,
  • help convene their family, friends and clergy,
  • help them understand what is happening and what to expect,
  • teach them how to care for themselves and one another in the days and weeks to come,
  • refer them to agencies that provide long-term support, and
  • provide other practical assistance as appropriate.


Do volunteers provide long-term follow up?

Generally not. Crisis volunteers typically only stay on scene for a couple or few hours. A core purpose of on-scene crisis care is to refer survivors to community resources that already offer long-term follow up support. Program staff may reach out to survivors in the ensuing days to see how they are doing, and ensure that they have made contact with the resources to which they were referred by on-scene volunteers.


How much good can volunteers actually do in just a few hours on scene?

When tragedy strikes, many survivors face a critical moment in their lives, in which the vicarious circumstances of their experience can profoundly intensify the impact of the tragedy itself. Effective on-scene compassion, support, and referral helps "contain" the impact. This in turn helps survivors begin up a path to rebuilding healthy, fulfilling, productive lives, rather than down a path to despair, substance abuse, school failure, job loss, family breakup, and other problems. Crisis care programs regularly receive letters from survivors months after an incident expressing how positively the volunteers impacted them.


Do these kinds of personal tragedies really happen very often?

Every week around the U.S., over 3,000 people die from suicides, homicides and accidental injuries (Source: Mortality Report, U.S. Centers for Disease Control). That's more than ten a week in a municipality of a million people. This does not even include unexpected natural deaths, such as heart attacks out in the community, “crib deaths” and others. Crisis care programs in mid-sized to large cities typically respond to hundreds of incidents each year. A volunteer who is on call twelve hours a week can typically expect to deploy at least once a month, if not two or three times.


Who else might be doing this in my community?

Many communities around the U.S. have programs ancillary to community crisis care, such as programs that provide financial support to crime or fire victims, or that provide personal support days or weeks after a trauma, or only after major disasters. However, in most communities, particularly east of the Rockies, no other organization provides immediate on-scene personal support to survivors of the majority of daily tragedies like suicides, accidents, and unexpected natural deaths.


How are crisis care volunteers activated?

Typically, police, fire or other public safety officials on scene radio the need for crisis volunteers to the Emergency Communication Center, which calls the local crisis care program's 24-hour activation line.


How many volunteers does a crisis care program need?

Crisis care programs must be prepared to immediately send volunteers to any location in its service area around the clock, 365 days a year. Thus, crisis care programs in major cities typically have at least 60 to 80 to over 100 active volunteers on their rosters, depending on the size of the city.


That's a lot of volunteers. Who recruits and manages them?

Well-established programs in major metro areas typically employ a full-time program manager and at least a part-time or full-time volunteer coordinator. In addition to recruiting, screening, training and managing large teams of volunteers, program staff also maintain on-going communications with public safety and other municipal officials.


Are volunteers mental health counselors?

The immediate scene of a tragedy is usually not the time for clinical intervention, and the services provided by crisis volunteers are practical rather than clinical. Thus, volunteers come from all walks of life. In fact, mental health professionals can sometimes even have more difficulty "taking off their clinical hat" to become crisis care volunteers.


What kinds of people are called to volunteer?

Volunteers come from a very broad racial, sectarian, geographic, and socioeconomic cross-section of the community. Those with a genuine calling to this work demonstrate a number of other personal, intellectual and practical characteristics. They have genuine compassion for every human being, even those most unlike themselves. They exhibit profound peace and humility. They have the discipline to follow detailed protocols, submit to authority, be cheerfully flexible under frequently and rapidly changing circumstances, and follow through on their commitments. They display common sense and good judgment. They can learn to effectively use current telecommunications technology, including mobile phones and the Internet. They can remain standing outdoors for long periods of time during the hottest days of summer and the coldest nights of winter. Individuals who wish to get involved with their local program but do not meet all of the requirements to be a responder can usually participate in other ways.


How do programs screen and train their volunteers?

Programs typically require volunteer applicants to complete an extensive application, provide references, and undergo a thorough background check by law enforcement. Successful volunteer applicants typically receive at least 40-80 hours of classroom training. Trainees then accompany seasoned responders on live calls in the field. In most programs, trainees pass out of probation once they accumulate sufficient hours in the field, have been exposed to a variety of different types of calls, and obtained consistently favorable reviews from the seasoned responders that they accompany.


Are crisis volunteers paid?



What's the typical annual budget for a community crisis care program?

Because crisis care programs operate almost exclusively through volunteers, administered by one or two paid staff, their annual budgets are generally under $200,000.


How many local programs does U.S. Crisis Care operate?

None. Crisis care programs are independent and community-based. U.S. Crisis Care provides technical assistance to support the development of new crisis care programs, and to support the operation of existing crisis care programs. U.S. Crisis Care itself does not directly operate community crisis care programs. Although programs in a few municipalities are operated directly by municipal agencies, most are administered by community-based nonprofit organizations in close partnership with local public safety agencies.


How many crisis care programs are there?

U.S. Crisis Care has never formally surveyed how many programs exist in the U.S. We are aware of about 25-30 programs, primarily in major metro areas in the western U.S.


Are all crisis care programs called "Crisis Care?"

No. Programs operate under a number of different titles, such as "crisis response," "crisis intervention," "trauma intervention," "community chaplaincy," or others.



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